Stockton Bankruptcy Case Begins
Monday the City of Stockton went to court in Sacramento to ask permission to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Opponents say the City did not cut enough spending nor did it seek a tax increase to avoid this move. You can read a report from KCRA.com and view a news clip HERE. You can also read a Reuters news account HERE. There is also a Huffington Post entry from last July to provide some perspective HERE. There is also an excellent essay titled "How would Stockton bankruptcy cut pensions?" by Ed Mendel dated 1/17/13 HERE. And, there is a summary of the bankruptcy timeline from the Stockton web site HERE.
WHY DO WE CARE?
So, what's the big deal, you ask? After all, Stockton got itself into this trouble by, according to that Huffington Post report, a spending binge. Why should we Costa Mesans care about what happens up there? Well, I'll tell you why.
For the past two years plus now-mayor Jim Righeimer and his loyal band of OC GOP sycophants have been screaming about Costa Mesa's terrible fiscal condition and using that misrepresentation to attempt to completely destroy the very fabric of our city.
BOGUS OUTSOURCING SCHEME
They used that bogus argument as the cornerstone of their scheme to outsource nearly half of the city staff two years ago, going so far as to completely ignore their own policies. That arrogant disregard for the rules of the game led to a lawsuit that is still in play today.
In their haste to disenfranchise employees represented by associations - Righeimer has fought "unions" most of his adult life - they tried to demonize the employees and turn public opinion against them. That backfired.
They used the bogus fiscal calamity as their platform for Measure V, Jim Righeimer's Charter scheme - the one that went down to a resounding defeat last November when the voters finally had a chance to opine on the issue. And that only happened when a diverse core of residents banded together to form Costa Mesans For Responsible Government and mount a concerted opposition to the scheme. And, of course, it helped that Righeimer and his cadre were so arrogant that they misplayed their hand a couple times as they tried to rush his charter onto the primary ballot in June.
CHANTING THE PARTY LINE
The mantra now is "unfunded pension liability" - not a small issue, to be sure. OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh told the world that Costa Mesa is "ground zero" for pension reform in California. However, after leading the chorus on this issue for two years, Righeimer has recently stated that he's not going to send another penny to CalPERS to reduce that liability, citing the makeup of the CalPERS board as a bunch of union hacks and unqualified partisans - mocking the current President of the CalPERS board as a "glazier".
Righiemer now offers NO solution to the "elephant in the room" - as described in one of the reports above - the CalPERS debt. He has stated more than once recently that he fully expects CalPERS to implode and that he doesn't want another cent of Costa Mesa money to be part of that crisis.
Short of CalPERS crashing, there is only one way for Costa Mesa to get out of that debt - municipal bankruptcy. So, that leaves me wondering just what Righeimer has in mind. Is he setting our city up to fail? He seemed to try very hard to keep the city from balancing the budget the past couple years by adding some of his pet projects to the mix. That failed when the folks who actually do the work - the excellent city staff - found ways to make it work.
CHOPPED PUBLIC SAFETY TO THE BONE
Righeimer and his cronies have cut the public safety staffing to near-calamitous levels. Just a few short years ago the Costa Mesa Police Department had 164 sworn officers, including some who were part of the AirBorne Law Enforcement Program (A.B.L.E.) - the model for all other municipal helicopter programs around the country. They unilaterally decided to disband A.B.L.E., leaving our partner, Newport Beach, and our contract city, Santa Ana, to scramble for air support. Now those cities and Costa Mesa are being provided marginal air support by Huntington Beach - and that program is on shaky ground.
FEWER COPS EQUALS MORE CRIME
Today the authorized strength of the Costa Mesa Police Department is 131 sworn officers, and includes 5 "grant officer positions" that will disappear in a couple years. Righeimer and his supporters will say, "Yeah, but we've got more non-sworn officers today." OK, but we had THOSE positions before, but they were sacrificed due to budget problems during the economic downturn that began late in 2007. The impact of those cuts is a dramatic increase in crime in our city, as reflected on this crime report comparing year end numbers for 2012 to 2011, HERE.
COUNCIL CREATES FIRE DEPARTMENT OVERTIME
The Fire Department - which has huge voids in senior leadership positions - has not been able to hire replacement staff because the council seems unwilling to approve and adopt Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's restructuring plan. I'm told we will hear yet another iteration of it soon. In the meantime, the clock ticks and thousands of hours of overtime by exhausted firefighters have been required to cover essential shifts. And then the Righeimer and his cohorts shamelessly criticize the firefighters for the money they earned working those hours.
WHAT'S HIS GAME?
I think Righeimer may be trying to maneuver our city into bankruptcy - the only way he can bust the "unions" and avoid the CalPERS debt. That is unacceptable. He and his anti-tax pals are unwilling to even consider an increase in the Business License fees - Costa Mesa has the lowest in Orange County. Even a modest increase would help, but a 50% increase would still place us near the bottom of the heap. They claim a fee increase would chase businesses out of the City. Really? Would Nordstorm's close their South Coast Plaza store if they had to pay $300 per year instead of $200? Give me a break!
So, we watch the proceedings in Sacramento to see if Stockton will be permitted to, in fact, enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. If so, watch the reaction to that event here in our town. For most of us paying our bills is just the way things should be done. However, that attitude is not universal on the City Council dais, where some members have a history of letting somebody else pay the bills. We should not let that happen in our city - not when there are options that have not even been discussed.